The Law Reform Committee of the Bar Council (“LRC”) was established in 1946 with terms of reference to develop and consider proposals for law reform.
Its work stems from the Bar Council’s own stated objectives of representing the Bar as a modern and forward looking profession and conducting research and promoting the Bar’s views on matters affecting the administration of justice, including substantive law reform.
Its primary purpose – then and now – is to submit views to the government and others where appropriate. That usually comprises responding to government consultations, the Law Commission, the EU and other bodies by the provision of written submissions drafted by members of the LRC with particular expertise in the area.
A long tradition
The LRC has a long tradition of commitment to reform of the law. At its first meeting, in November 1946, those attending included Gerald Gardiner KC who went on to become one of the great reforming Lord Chancellors. In 1949 it was minuted that there should be a uniform limitation period in respect of all claims for personal injury, contract and tort “thus rendering them more easily understood and remembered by both lawyers and laymen” (a reform which was subsequently recommended by the Law Commission nearly 50 years later).
The Final Report of the Denning Divorce Committee was discussed by the LRC. The future Lords Diplock and Donaldson submitted a paper on Civil Aviation. In the 1950s, counsel who had appeared in R v Montagu (1884) 49 JP 55 were invited to provide their views to a meeting of the LRC on what the decision had said about the scope of the right of the police to enter the property of accused persons.
Topics such as public interest immunity and pre-trial publicity in criminal trials also appear in the minutes of past meetings.
The current membership
In the last ten years, the LRC has been chaired by two people who went on to the High Court Bench (Mr Justice Langstaff and Mr Justice Foskett), as well as Frank Burton QC and the current chairman, Stephen Worthington QC.
As presently constituted, the LRC meets monthly and has a membership made up of barristers specialising in a broad range of areas of law to provide strength in depth in responding to consultations. It has 27 members specialising in all areas of practice at the Bar (criminal, family, commercial, employment law etc) which can provide representations on a wide range of matters.
It has always been assisted by those who, although not members of the LRC, are recognised specialists in an area and can give of their time to a response paper. That is usually by way of recommendation or known expertise in an area. The LRC also has close connections with the Specialist Bar Associations and works with them where appropriate in respect of consultations – with the representations sometimes being jointly submitted.
There is also an annual essay competition and lecture at which the annual essay prize is awarded. Copies of winning essays have been sent to the Law Commission in the past if they are of particular merit.
Areas of reform: your views
In 2009 the LRC was busy, responding to 31 consultations on matters ranging from the national minimum wage to consumer remedies for faulty goods and the admissibility of expert evidence in criminal proceedings in England and Wales.
In 2010 the LRC has already submitted eight consultation papers, on immigration law, the role of the consumer advocate, mortgagees power of sale and intestacy, amongst other topics. The new Coalition government and the numerous Bills proposed in the Queen’s Speech also promise to keep the LRC busy for the foreseeable future.
The Law Commission has recently invited the LRC to submit to it specific proposals for law reform (for its 11th programme of law reform for submission to the Lord Chancellor next year). The LRC wants to canvas the profession for its views on areas of law which the LRC should consider on behalf of the Bar. The LRC would be very grateful if readers could respond to the questionnaire (see below). The questionnaire is also available on the Bar Council website at http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/lrc/. Readers are invited to submit written responses if they prefer (please send your responses to the freepost address given below).
Dan Stacey, barrister, Halisham Chambers and Eleena Misra, barrister, Littleton Chambers are members of the Law Reform Committee